Salimu, Fagaloa calls for international recognition of communal rights

The village of Salimu in Fagaloa has called on a Special Parliamentary Committee to write to the Commonwealth of Nations to seek international recognition of Samoa’s system of communal rights. 

The call from Salimu to recognise Samoa’s system of village councils was among six recommendations made in a written submission made to the committee, which has been convened to seek feedback on legislation before Parliament. 

Held at Ma'asina in Fagaloa, the committee heard the village's expression of support for the bills, including the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020, and the Judicature Bill 2020. 

The proposed pieces of legislation are at their second reading stage of the Parliamentary process.  

A paramount chief from Salimu, Fonoti Perelini Perelini, told the Samoa Observer the village made a total of six suggestions for improving the bills, which are part of a Government plan to overhaul the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) and judiciary. 

"We have decided to support the changes behind the three bills with some recommendations to improve the bills,” Fonoti said.  

"The thing is, communal rights which can refer to the rights of the village council (Ali'i ma Faipule) should've been included and be reflected in the Constitution from the beginning. 

"Since the beginning, we have prioritised and recognised individual rights. That's why we have decided to support the changes proposed about having a balance for communal and individual rights. 

"We fully support the recognition and the including of communal rights within our Constitution."

The Commonwealth is an international political alliance of 54 member states - almost entirely composed of former parts of the British empire - making it the world's second-largest intergovernmental body behind the United Nations.

The call comes following ongoing debate about the appropriate balance between individual and communal rights, sparked by the proposed bills before Parliament. 

The village believes there should be a balance between communal and individual rights, Fonoti said: 

"That's one of our concerns, there should be a balance so there will be no friction caused in the future because of that.

"From our perspective, individual rights within the villages are under the supervision of the village councils. As you are aware, within the villages, the village council is in charge of everything that happens in the village. They make the decision and they control any situation that might arise within the village. 

"They lead and protect the rights of the people within the villages."

He went on to say that they have asked Parliament and the Government to submit a recommendation to the Commonwealth, to give importance to communal rights, referring to Samoa's matai system or village council. 

"Because our constitution was made up of the help and knowledge of the United Nation at the time we became Independence, even though our ancestors wanted to include communal rights or the rights of our village councils within our Constitution, their efforts were not successful. 

"But with the proposed changes, to include communal rights within our Constitution, we have advised the Committee to discuss and write to the United Nation to recognise communal rights referring to village councils. 

"Samoa isn't the only country that is a part of the Commonwealth with this type of system and authority. 

"Africa has tribes too, and it's the same with Maori and Australia.

"Samoa is one of the oldest countries under the United Nations and as the usual process, once these laws are passed, we will have to submit it to them and they might review and revoke the inclusion of communal rights within our Constitution."

Said Fonoti, the Committee has accepted their recommendations and promised they will consider all the recommendations Salimu made. 

Moreover, the village of Salimu has praised the efforts by the government and parliament in formulating these bills and changes. 

"Changes are made in accordance with what is happening at certain times," said Fonoti.  

"Since we became independent in 1962, our Constitution has been amended 23 times. This means that if these changes (behind the three bills) are passed in Parliament, it will be 24. 

"The way we see it, changes are inevitable because we are evolving like the rest of the world. 

"Changes don't automatically happen. They are made so that it is parallel with what is happening around us. 

"For example, matters and cases that are filed at the L.T.C., there is a long and complicated process that we must follow, and if a decision is being appealed, it will mean that we will have to go to the Supreme Court. But that is going to change once we have this new change where the L.T.C. will be separated. 

"The changes also mean that the process will be step by step and it will be easy and quick. 

"So overall, in our opinion, these are good changes and something we should've done already. We are happy that the changes are now happening at our time because I am telling you, it is not easy to come up with changes. And it usually takes some time for changes to occur."

They are also appreciative of the efforts by the parliamentary committee in carrying out their role by explaining and gathering the views of the community before they submit a report to Parliament. 

"We are grateful that they are having these consultations because they are very important," Fonoti said.  

"The parliamentary committee's role is not only to explain the changes behind the bills but also going out in the villages to collect and gather the views and opinions of the community before the bills are returned to Parliament for a third reading. 

"This shows that the government and especially the Parliamentary Committee are able to carry out their role and are willing to go the extra mile to make sure that they get the views of the people regarding the proposed changes so they can formulate better legislation. 

"For our village alone, 99 per cent of our village decided to support the changes. But there were two other matai who had their own arguments against the proposed changes and it's their right to think the way they do. And we asked them to join us, still, and raise their concerns and reasons why they have decided not to support like the rest of us. 

"Our whole village contributed to the written submission we handed to the committee today."

In response to the debate about the bills, an international legal authority on human rights earlier this year wrote to the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, warning that passing constitutional amendments to undermine the rule of law could threaten its membership to the Commonwealth. 

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (I.B.A.H.R.I.), led by co-chairs Michael Kirby and Anne Ramberg, released their letter to Tuilaepa this May to express their concern over the proposed changes.

Addressing Parliament on the bills earlier this year, Tuilaepa said the goal of the proposed bills is to make the constitution more Samoan and to give due weight to custom in the courts.

Consultations on the bills are continuing in Upolu this week.  





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